On August 23, 2017, President Trump signed a bill that is meant to overhaul the VA appeals process. This bill is known by the short title, Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. The obvious questions for the new VA appeal process are:
- What does this bill do?
- When does it go into effect?
- How is it going to affect the appeal process?
What is the new process?
The first answer is simple. The bill is meant to speed up the appeals process which currently takes years for veterans which currently takes years for veterans to get their much deserved, and oftentimes needed, benefits. Currently, the VA offers two appeal processes when a veteran receives a decision that they disagree with:
- Appeal, with new information, to the same adjudicator (reconsideration), or
- Requesting a higher-level adjudicator (Decision Review Officer or DRO).
Both choices require the filing of a Notice of Disagreement, and following either choice, another rating decision will be issued (positive result) or a Statement of the Case (continued denial) will be issued. To continue the appeal, the veteran must file a VA Form 9, called a substantive appeal, to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
The new law adds another option to the appeal process. Under the new law, a claimant can choose to file what is known as a “fully developed appeal.” To do this the claimant must file with the VA:
- Their notice of disagreement, with written election to have the appeal determined under the program,
- All evidence that the claimant believes is needed for the appeal as of the date of the filing, and
- A statement of the argument in support of the claim, if any.
This new VA appeal process eliminates the Statement of the Case mentioned above and the need to file a VA Form 9. The claim is then sent directly to the Board of Veteran’s Appeals.
The “fully developed appeal” does come with strict restrictions though. Once filed, a claimant may not submit or identify any new evidence relating to the claim unless they revert to the standard appeals process. If the claimant submits or identifies any such new evidence, the submission is deemed to be an election to use the standard process.
To clarify, this does not mean that there will be no additional development once at the Board. When one chooses to use this path for their appeal, the Board is not prohibited from acquiring or requesting additional evidence. The new law does, however, prohibit the Board from returning the case to the regional office for this development.
When does the new process begin?
The VA officials have stated it will take approximately 18 months to implement the new system meaning we are unlikely to see it go into effect until spring of 2019. The delay is due to a number of reasons including needing to move staff, hire additional workers, acquire new space, and provide training for the new system.
How will it affect the appeals process?
In theory, the new system will allow to cut down on the backlog of cases that the VA is currently experiencing. By allowing cases to move up the appeal process faster and limiting the submission of additional evidence to the initial appeal, the overall appeal process should be sped up. The process also aims to eliminate some of the “hamster wheel” processes that currently plague the VA appeal process.
Thank you for reading and for your service.
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